The Blind leading the Blind in China

You don’t see adorable golden Labradors helping the blind find their way around the streets in China.  Although China has almost 1 in 5 of the world’s blind people – around 5,000,000 – there are just 47 guide dogs.  Yep, that’s over 100,000 people per pooch.  So how do those who can’t see find their way around?

 

In China, blind people have to lead each other around

With few guide dogs in China, blind people help each other around the streets

 

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Biking in Shanghai

When I first arrived in Beijing in 2010, my biggest surprise was the lack of bicycles. As a young lad, gaping over sepia prints of China, it was the hordes of bicycles on Beijing’s streets that made the biggest impression. These days, China’s bicycle situation is one of the most noticeable indicators of the changes China has made over the past three decades.

 

Beijing has many great things, but its diminishing bike culture isn’t one of them. Just 10 years ago, 60% of Beijingers used peddle power to get to work. But with increasing wealth, sprawling suburbs, bigger roads and lessening bike lanes, that figure now languishes below many European cities, at 20%. For someone who enjoys powering two wheels from a hard seat, I was disappointed.

 

Six months later and a 1,200 kilometre move south to Shanghai, my faith was restored. Shanghai is China’s original home of cycling and it still reigns as a dreamland for those who enjoy a little excitement when they play on their peddles.

 

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Lamb Love in Shanghai

As a youngster in New Zealand, it wasn’t unusual to return home to the sweet aroma of roasting lamb. Over the years, Kiwi cuisine evolved to mouth watering lamb shanks, gourmet lamb burgers, lamb racks, lamb medallions and many other cuts that make your taste buds tingle and tummy twitter.  With almost 10 sheep for every New Zealander, there’s a bit of lamb to go around.

 

Fast forward a few years and 9,735 kilometres across the Pacific, where we found ourselves craving a little lamb love in Shanghai.  While lamb and mutton are the meats of choice for the sparsely populated western China provinces and Inner Mongolia, and is a popular dish in Northern China, finding a nice cut in Shanghai is needle-in-a-haystack kind of stuff.

 

A sheep pulling a cart in China

Various uses for sheep in China. Source: squierj.freeyellow.com

 

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Koh Rong Island, Cambodia: Paradise … for the Time Being

Something I love about travelling in places like Asia, the Nile River and even New Zealand, is discovering those jaw-droppingly-magical places that are still unspoiled from the tentacles of development.  We were lucky to stumble upon another gem, Koh Rong Island, in a recent trip to Cambodia.

 

One of Koh Rong Island's 23 beautiful beaches

One of Koh Rong Island’s 23 beautiful beaches

 

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English Names for Chinese: “Hi I’m Rambo, nice to meet you”

Imagine you were the top engineering student at one of China’s best universities.  You’ve studied hard, hoping some day you’ll work for a multinational and possibly get transferred to America.  Fortunately, there are many graduate jobs advertised for multinationals looking for the exact skills and qualifications you have. You submit your resume, both in Chinese and English, with your English name atop, followed by your impressive credentials.

 

Days pass, you hear nothing.  Weeks follow, without a word.  One by one, you call up the companies you applied to.  In perfect English, you introduce yourself to the American HR representative, “Hi I’m Rambo, I’m calling about your graduate position…” An empty silence fills the receiver, then a click.

 

English name for Chinese: Rambo

'Rambo' isn't an uncommon English name in China. Photo credit: kotaku.com/rambo

 

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Chinese Chicken Love

There are an infinite amount of staggering China statistics. One of my favourites is the quantity of meat. Over a billion pigs are in China, more than every other country combined, and 12 million of them are eaten every week. On average, a small Chinese village eats more hog than Egypt’s entire population living along the Nile. But to think that China is just about animals that oink would be unnecessarily underselling that other well-known white meat, the chicken.

 

Chairman Mao KFC China

Who's the Colonel in China?

 

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Winter in Tibet – the best time to visit?

Mention Tibet and most people will picture snowy ranges, icy-bearded mountaineers and hardy locals wrapped in yak hides.  That’s with good reason; generally the higher you go, the colder it gets, and Tibet is high.

 

Tibet isn’t called the Roof of the World for nothing.  The Tibetan Plateau is the highest and largest plateau in the world with an average altitude of 4,500 metres (14,800 feet).  Just 36 countries have a mountain that reaches that height. Yet at that altitude, even in January, much of Tibet is surprisingly pleasant.

 

Winter sun in Tibet

Winter sun in Tibet

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Chinese Year of the Dragon – The Top-6 Reasons to go Shopping

The new moon on 23 January 2012 will welcome in the Year of the Dragon and see another round of the largest human migration on the planet, billions of boiled dumplings, gargantuan fireworks and enough red decorations to plaster the Great Wall of China 87-times over.

 

While doomsayers have been stocking up on tinned asparagus in preparation for the world-ending catastrophe of 2012, the Chinese have been preparing for the biggest of their 12 zodiac years.  The Year of the Dragon is the most auspicious year of the Chinese lunar cycle and the one that is associated with wealth and power.

 

Chinese Year of the Dragon Cartoon

China's having a baby boom in the Year of the Dragon

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China’s One-Child Policy Shaping the Cars of the Future

While most of the world’s major economies splutter along, China’s blistering economic growth has businesses everywhere salivating for a piece of China’s increasingly wealthy middle class.

 

Everyone peddling something from adventures down the Nile River to skin-whitening face cream are redefining their strategies to get a piece of the Chinese pie. Even Porsche chose Shanghai for their world debut of the 4-door family wagon Porsche Panamera – its biggest launch in years.

 

Launch of the Porsche Panamera in Shanghai

Launch of the Porsche Panamera in Shanghai

 

But it seems ads with backdrops of Chinese skylines are for beginners, when you see the lengths the world’s biggest auto manufacturer is going to get their cars on Chinese roads…

 

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Art and Culture – China’s Missing Link?

With a history spanning 5,000 years, China is rich with cultural and artistic treasures – albeit not nearly as wealthy as it should be.

 

There’s no arts and culture killjoy quite like a Cultural Revolution. In just 10 years from 1966-1976, innumerable works of splendid art, antiques, architecture, books and paintings spanning millennia were destroyed by Red Guards. Countless Chinese artists were persecuted and people were encouraged to criticise their cultural institutions. Arts students, or any students for that matter, were shifted en masse from their universities, to raise pigs and grow grain in rural labour camps.

 

Chinese art and culture propaganda

Chinese Propaganda from 1967 translated to "Destroy the old world; Forge the new world." The worker is destroying classical Chinese text, music on vinyl, a crucifix and buddha.

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Trincomalee – Home to Sri Lanka’s best beaches

Trincomalee on Sri Lanka’s east coast is my new favourite beach.  There are more dramatic bays, and seaside spots serving tastier margaritas, but something about Trincomalee’s beaches hit my sweet spot.

 

What makes it my favourite beach?  It’s raw, rustic and the first cheap, sunny, beautiful place that I’ve been to in a long time where the locals aren’t trying to peddle their wares.  Its people are wonderful, architecture charming, history fascinating and it ticks every box that I love to tick when I’m travelling…

 

Tamil fisherman overlooking Trincomalee Beach

Tamil fisherman overlooking the Indian Ocean at Trincomalee Beach

 

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The Chinese Rugby Strategy

Congrats to the mighty All Blacks on their final, hard-fought victory at the Rugby World Cup – a Monstrous effort.  Let it be an inspiration to budding Chinese rugby players.

 

But let’s take it one step at a time.  At this stage, it’s better to look at the grit of the 2nd Tier nations and their upsets as the true exemplars for aspiring rugby nations like China. Ireland beating Australia and the even more beautiful trouncing of the French by Tonga should show countries like China that with the right spirit, even the underdogs are in with a chance.   Yet even with the right spirit, rugby has a way to go in China.

 

Chinese rugby players holding the Rugby World Cup

Could Chinese rugby players be holding the Rugby World Cup some day?

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Datong, China: Diamond in the Coal

Suggest a weekend of travelling to Datong and almost every Chinese man will screw up his face. Ye Dirty Olde Coal Town is officially China’s 4th most polluted city and is just down the road from the world’s most polluted, Linfen 7VFQXJHKFEKP. But with a history spanning 22 centuries, including two as the capital of the Northern Wei Dynasty, there is much more to Shanxi Province’s City of Coal than soot-swathed buildings. There’s a 1,500 year-old temple that hangs from a cliff face, China’s oldest and tallest wooden structure and caves chock-full of tens of thousands of ancient Buddha statues – some rivalling even those on the banks of the River Nile for scale and awe.

 

Datong sprawls across a coal-rich basin surrounded on three sides by golden-coloured mountains. The settlement was founded around 200BC and grew as a thriving pit stop for camel caravans transporting their wares north to Mongolia. At its peak as the capital of the Northern Wei Dynasty from 366-494, Datong saw many labourers construct some of China’s most magnificent sites.

 

Xuan Kong Si Hanging Temple, Datong, Shanxi Province, China

The gravity-defying Xuan Kong Si Temple 'hanging' from a cliff 17-stories up

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The Best Book on China I’ve Read in a Long Time

There’s a new book in town: China Expat’s A Decade of Writing 2001–2011.

 

Squeezed into 228 pages are a collection of articles from the boys at China Expat, to celebrate 10 years since they began demystifying this fascinating land of China.

 

China Expat’s book is a must-read for anyone curious about China, planning to visit, do business or live in China; in addition to any seasoned Chinese expatriate. I think Chinese locals would get a kick out of it too! Remarkably, it’s absolutely free!

 

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64 years of Hard Labour to Marry Your Traditional Chinese Bride

If you were born in China post the 1979 One-Child-Policy, you’d better hope you’re a karaoke crooner or have a lot of cash.  Getting a wife in China is becoming increasingly difficult.

 

If you’re one of those boys who does find your Chinese bride and grows old with her talking about sunsets on the Nile River, you’re one of the lucky ones.  Tens of millions will be without.  Yep, for every 100 boys born in China these days, there’re only 81 Chinese girls to woo.  And with those ratios, it just pushes the stakes up.

 

One of the lucky ones - A handsome Chinese groom in pink with his lovely bride prior to their traditional Chinese marriage in Shanghai

Not so traditional Chinese marriage outfits worn by a lucky groom and his Chinese bride

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My wife Ellen and I are currently living in China, bumbling our way around this fascinating and fast-changing country. We kicked off our stay with a semester of Intensive Mandarin studies at Beijing Language and Culture University and are now living in Shanghai. These posts cover some of my experiences, views and curious facts in and around the Middle Kingdom. Please let me know what you think!


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